I’ve seen a lot of firsts in my life. The first African-American woman to run for President. The first woman to be nominated for Vice President by the Democratic Party. The first woman in space. The first woman to win an Oscar for best director.
But there is one landmark event that I have not seen and that, as time marches on, seems to be getting further away instead of closer: seeing a woman direct a superhero film.
News came last evening that Michelle MacLaren, who officially signed on to direct the Wonder Woman movie last November, has departed the film over “creative differences.” The term “creative differences” is a Hollywood euphemism for getting fired. “Creative differences” to me is the same explanation as when a high-profile executive says they want to spend more time with their families. Now, it’s probably not a complete lie, because they probably had a stressful and time-consuming job, yet it is not the whole truth, because they were forced out of a job they loved.
Let’s remember that directors (as well as writers) come and go on projects all the time. Yet MacLaren’s departure carries more weight because this was a project that was being watched very carefully, since it is important to the studio’s image and has franchise potential written all over it. I’m sure the studio is reading the data we all are, that female audiences are coming out for films with girls and women in them.
My biggest concern now is that this has become a pattern. Remember Patty Jenkins and “Thor”? A female director cannot seem to get to the starting gate, let alone the finish line, for a big blockbuster movie. I don’t know of a single project in the studio pipeline with this level of visibility and prestige that has a female director attached. And the problem to me is the lack of trust in women’s visions. This is a monumental problem for our culture. Why do we have such a problem allowing women to put forward visions of heroic characters whether they be male or female? Why are only men allowed to tell these stories, which have become the main cultural narratives of our time?
In addition, Warner Brothers, the studio releasing “Wonder Woman,” has a serious problem when it comes to employing women directors. As our infographic from last year shows, Warner Brothers employed only 3 women directors from 2009-2013. Looking at the top-grossing films from last year, I don’t see a single film from Warner Brothers helmed by a woman.
I can only hope that the studio will hire another woman to replace MacLaren, but I am not holding my breath, since they already have a release date of 2017. They are going to seek out what they know, the same old same old, and that almost always means men-in-charge in this business.